Hungarian teachers say new school curriculum pushes nationalist ideology

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - A Hungarian teachers’ union on Tuesday protested against a new school curriculum it says is designed by the ruling Fidesz party to promote its nationalist agenda and curb academic freedoms.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the leader of Fidesz, has often come under fire from the European Union and human rights groups for a range of policies they say harm democracy and the rule of law in Hungary.

In the education field, Orban has restricted the freedom of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and forced the Central European University to leave the country.

The Ministry of Human Resources announced the National Fundamental Curriculum (NAT) on Friday, specifying in detail the required material for study in elementary and secondary schools.

The Democratic Union of Teachers (PDSZ) called for protests against the changes, now cast in law.

“It is problematic when an educational framework is based on ideology rather than professional principles,” PDSZ said in a statement on its website. “It should be withdrawn.”

Teachers of history and literature issued separate statements complaining that the NAT favors nationalist authors and agendas.

For instance, the NAT names among what it considers the 10 most important Hungarian authors Ferenc Herczeg, who was an ardent supporter of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

It contains no mention of Hungary’s only Nobel-winning author, Imre Kertesz, who was honored in 2002 for his body of work on the human experience during the Holocaust.

“This curriculum expects a constant declaration of moral, ideological views,” wrote Gyorgy Fenyo, deputy director of the Association of Literature Teachers. “It leaves no freedom for thought but dictates what (we are meant to) think.”

“It... can only serve as a curriculum of a dictatorship,” he added.

Asked about the union’s criticism, a government spokesman said: “Hungary’s best experts prepared NAT after lengthy professional discussions.”

The human resources minister said on Monday Hungary had needed to update its school curriculum.

“Future generations can begin their lives leaning on a curriculum based on values and showing European, Hungarian values,” Miklos Kasler told state television.

Teachers protesting began to post photos on social media with the #noNAT hashtag and slogans such as “I will not teach fascism”.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Gareth Jones